TOXIC EXPOSURE: BERYLLIUM

Chronic Beryllium Disease & Beryllium Exposure

Beryllium is a rare element that is extracted from the earth, refined and reduced to a very fine powder. Its properties of light weight, high tensile strength and ability to slow neutrons have made it useful in many industries. Common workplace forms of beryllium are beryllium oxide powder, beryllium ceramics and beryllium copper alloy.

Because of the health dangers associated with beryllium exposure, the Atomic Energy Commission adopted limits for workplace beryllium exposure. These limits are extraordinarily low. They reflect the fact that there is no known safe level of beryllium exposure; even minimal exposures to the substance may cause chronic beryllium disease (also known as CBD or berylliosis) in susceptible individuals. Family members of individuals who work with beryllium can also develop chronic beryllium disease from exposure to dust that the worker brings home on his or her clothing.

Modern industrial hygiene controls can prevent chronic beryllium disease. Because small amounts of airborne beryllium are so toxic, the law and good safety practices require very strict controls regarding the use of beryllium in manufacturing. Berylliosis results from the inhalation of beryllium dust that is released into the air. The dust is generated from the handling of beryllium powder or from the grinding of beryllium ceramics.

The course of beryllium disease or berylliosis is highly variable. In some cases, the patient suffers alternating periods of high disease activity and remission. Other patients have a stable course for years followed by decline; others have a rapid decline. Symptoms of serious disease include increased shortness of breath, decreased lung function, and increased lung abnormalities, as shown by x–rays. Despite treatment, chronic beryllium disease can be progressive and fatal. New treatments include lung transplants.

Various studies show that beryllium is a human carcinogen associated with lung cancer. Anyone with a history of beryllium exposure who develops lung cancer should be evaluated to determine if beryllium played a role in causing the cancer. For detailed information about beryllium exposure and beryllium–related diseases, see our web site, Beryllium Network.

Legal Help for Beryllium Victims

The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000 (H.R. 5408) established a program that compensates certain workers with chronic beryllium disease who were employed by the Department of Energy or its contractors. A qualified worker receives a lump sum payment of $150,000 for disability and future associated medical expenses. In our experience, however, verdict awards and settlements in chronic beryllium disease cases may far exceed the $150,000 government payment. We believe that this arbitrarily selected amount often is not enough to fully compensate the victims of the beryllium industry. If you suffer from chronic beryllium disease, you should consider your long term future and the quality of life you can expect before electing to accept the lump sum payment being offered by the Department of Energy.

Though we can not guarantee the outcome of any case, at Brayton Purcell, we make every effort to obtain a fair resolution for our clients. If you have been diagnosed with chronic beryllium disease, believe you have been exposed to beryllium in the workplace or were exposed to beryllium by others who work with this substance, and are experiencing any breathing difficulties, please feel free to contact us. We will be able to refer you to a qualified physician for testing.

Given our extensive experience with beryllium–related litigation, we also will be able to help you pursue your right to compensation should you have chronic beryllium disease. Although our principal offices are on the West Coast, because of our expertise we have been associated in cases around the country involving beryllium exposure. We work with local attorneys in various states to provide representation in other locations.

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